Alberto Crisci is the catering manager at High Down Prison in Sutton, Surrey, where The Clink, a high end restaurant run by inmates, this month celebrates its first birthday. Crisci spoke to Kerstin Kühn.
Caterer How did the Clink project first come about?
Alberto Crisci I've been working at High Down for many years, teaching NVQs to the prisoners and cooking their main meals. I started to organise gourmet lunches, where we invited employers in to sample the food made and served by the prisoners to open doors for them into employment. When the prison was expanded from 700 to 1,100 prisoners, the opportunity arose to expand the catering department and I came up with the idea of launching a West End-style restaurant. It had to be high class because I wanted the prisoners to get the right type of experience, so that when they leave they can get good, long-term jobs and stay out of trouble. I also wanted it to have a wow factor so that potential employers would be interested in coming in to see it.
Caterer What were the major challenges?
AC Funding was the biggest challenge as there was no public money available, but with the help of [development director and founder trustee] Kate Quigley-Ruby we raised £300,000. The next challenge was opening the restaurant from scratch. We had six weeks to get up and running with a team of people who had zero experience. My main concern was the front of house, but I was really surprised at how polite and willing to take orders the prisoners were.
Caterer Who works at The Clink?
AC Inmates have to apply for jobs in the prison. They have to work in the main prison kitchen first for a few weeks so that we can assess them. If we feel they are suitable for The Clink then they will work there. We decide whether they get a job front of house or in the kitchen.
Caterer What qualifications do they gain from working in The Clink?
AC They get City & Guilds NVQ Professional Cookery Level 2 and 3 and Food Service Level 2, as well as the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc) Food Premises Cleaning Certificate (FPCC) and a food hygiene certificate.
Caterer How can the industry support The Clink?
AC By coming in and having a look at what we're doing with the training and by thinking about employing ex-offenders. Of course they aren't little angels, but a lot of them just need the opportunity for a change of direction and with some help can put their past behind them. But without a job it's very difficult for them to do so.
Caterer Tell us about The Clink 2
AC The Clink 2 is just a working title at the moment, but it's got nothing to do with the Ministry of Justice and is a separate entity from the original Clink. It's basically a restaurant in the community in Kennington, south London, which uses The Clink theme. It will offer six jobs to ex-offenders - not just from The Clink - and I am overseeing the training.